Sunday, October 30, 2005
Published Friday, October 28, 2005
Theology Experts Explore Bible, Sex
FSC lecture speakers challenge some widely-held "truths."
By Cary McMullen
Ledger Religion Editor
LAKELAND -- A trio of visiting scholars challenged conventional understandings of the Bible's prohibition against homosexuality at a symposium at Florida Southern College on Thursday.
With two more lectures on tap for today, the participants all expressed views that run counter to prevailing policies toward gays in most denominations.
The topic of the annual Bible Symposium, held in the Hollis Room at FSC and sponsored by the Department of Religion and Philosophy, is "Sex, Love and Marriage in Scripture and Tradition."
Delivering lectures Thursday were James L. Crenshaw, professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School; L. William Countryman, professor of biblical studies at The (Episcopal) Church Divinity School of the Pacific; and Mary Rose D'Angelo, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.
In his lecture, Crenshaw noted that the Hebrew scriptures were written over a period of 12 centuries and that because of shifting circumstances, "We possess no statement describing a normative practice" of sex and marriage. He pointed to conflicting views of divorce, which in earlier centuries were easily obtained but were later frowned on by prophetic and rabbinic pronouncements.
Crenshaw said the biblical book, "Song of Songs," a lengthy love poem, displays a view outside the usual moral and social code, that of "fulfilled sexual desire outside of marriage," in which a woman initiates sexual encounters.
"The lovers defy convention in the way lovers have always done," he said.
With respect to homosexuality, Crenshaw said it is forbidden in the book of Leviticus, along with bestiality and cross-dressing. However, he said the biblical prohibitions should not necessarily be taken as final.
"We must reject at the outset any notion of the supreme authority of scripture. . . . Even those who take most literal interpretation of biblical texts, who claim to believe everything literally, nevertheless sit in judgment on their meaning at every juncture because readers determine meaning," he said.
[If there was ever a post-modern comment, well, that was it.]
As a result, Crenshaw said, "those who practice alternative sexual lifestyles" should not be condemned.
"Is God more interested in our sex lives than in our integrity, our good deeds and our chaste thoughts?" he said.
[Funny, I thought that our sex life was part of our integrity, good deeds and chaste lives.]
Crenshaw's school, Duke Divinity School, is associated with the United Methodist Church, which permits gays to be members of its congregations but prohibits them from being ministers.
The Episcopal Church, in which Countryman is ordained as a priest, has been divided by controversy over the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire.
In his lecture, Countryman emphasized the primacy of the gospel, which he said is "the good news that God made us all alike and loves us all equally."
[See what I mean about about not getting caught up in "mere words"? Mere words must not get in the way of the Exodus/liberation motif.]
He then turned to the first chapter of the New Testament book of Romans, written by the apostle Paul, which apparently condemns homosexual practice by men and women. Countryman said the passage does not contain a prohibition.
"The language is harsh, but Paul doesn't say explicitly that it is sinful. . . . All we can say is that the case isn't very strong. For myself, I'm frankly unconvinced," he said. "Most important of all, the gospel doesn't enter into it."
Countryman said the passage should be interpreted as part of the entire book, in which Paul forbids Jews and gentiles to have attitudes of superiority toward each other.
"We still hear Paul as agreeing with our own prejudices, whether for homosexuals or Jews. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to get things wrong," he said.
Countryman's interpretation was challenged by a member of the audience.
"Paul never gets away from the law (of Moses). He says the law is good, it teaches me what is wrong," said Frankie Dippy, a senior studying religion at FSC. Dippy also argued that a word in the original Greek text, which Countryman said is ambiguous, specifically refers to homosexual acts.
"You're just wrong," Countryman responded. "The meaning of words is not determined by their etymology but by their usage. (With that word) we have no information to go on."
[Well, the elite has spoken. Let all others be silent!]
In a lecture titled "Sex and Politics in the Beginning of Christianity," D'Angelo compared a list of people named by Paul at the end of Romans with depictions of freed slaves in Roman funeral monuments.
It is likely that some of those named by Paul were former slaves, and because slaves were often sexually used by their masters, the Christian message of freedom from sin would have had a particular appeal, she said.
"These are people whose sexual integrity would have been suspect to Romans," she said.
The Roman social milieu had one thing in common with the present, D'Angelo said.
"Sex was everywhere. There was a lot of erotic art, some of it in public places. It sounds a lot like the 21st century," she said.
At 8:30 a.m. today, Theodore W. Jennings Jr., professor of biblical and constructive theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, will give a lecture on "Gay and Lesbian Issues in Scripture and Tradition." At 11 a.m., John J. Carey, a retired professor of religion who formerly taught at FSC and Florida State University, will lecture on "Current Developments in the Sexuality Debates."
Richard Rupp is a Christian counselor with a thriving practice in Pasadena, California. He's also a member of an American Baptist church--Evergreen Baptist in Rosemead, CA. Men's issues are among Rick's specialties, and he's had a very sucessful ministry in helping men who are struggling with sexual misindentity.
Rick and I had lunch a few weeks ago, and I asked him to write something that a church could use to clarify that while we stand with Scripture on the morality of homosexuality, we also stand with Scripture on love. Here's what he wrote. Thanks Rick.
Statement of Welcome to Men and Women with Homosexual Attractions
Not all Christian men and women with homosexual attractions identify themselves as “gay,” nor do they want a gay lifestyle or gay partners. Instead, their own hopes are to have a wife, husband and children someday, like most other men and women since time began. And these brothers and sisters deserve to receive all the help they need to make such hopes and prayers come true. A supportive and loving church can be a major source of help and healing for these men and women. For those who feel led to remain single and celibate, we also support their life and role in our churches. This church welcomes and affirms all of these men and women into our churches.
In fact, this is exactly the need that these men have had all of their lives, to feel accepted by a community of other Christian believers that recognize him as the man he is, instead of erroneously labeling him as “gay.” Instead of being ostracized or teased as they often were as boys, these men can finally have their masculine identity respected and affirmed by the men of our churches. Finally, these men can feel like they are “one of the guys.” The healing of their masculine insecurities can finally come true. And these men should never have to worry about being shamed by other men in our churches, for all men are called to a life of righteous living by the same Lord. As Paul himself said, “Not that I have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) We are all in this journey together of being “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” (Ro. 8:29) We are also called to “encourage one another and build each other up.” (I Thes. 5:11). Women with homosexual attractions can be encouraged by other women in our churches to find new trust in women, and with men, and security in their own femininity. Men with homosexual attractions can be supported in the growth of their masculine identity and their heterosexual desires and confidence with women. These men and women deserve our help. Again, this church welcomes and affirms these men and women into our churches.
Having homosexual desires (vs. behavior) is no more or less a sin than coveting and lusting after some other man’s wife. We are all challenged to align our desires and behavior with God’s design for our sexuality. And God’s design has been clear since the creation of man and woman. We are created for each other, male and female. A man who has sexual desire only for his own sex has been wounded along the way in his masculine identity and sexual development. These wounds typically include a conflicted ability to emotionally separate from his mother, a resentment and disrespect of his father/other males, being ostracized by other boys and peers as “different,” “sissy,” or “gay”, and often times, being sexually abused. A woman who has sexual desire for her own sex has also been wounded in her own feminine identity and sexual development. Her wounds typically include a detachment and resentment of a weak or unavailable mother, and an envy of perceived male power. Her trust in men may also have been destroyed because of sexual abuse or rape. Finally, she may have bought the radical feminist belief that women don’t need men—as if, men are the enemy. Any of the above wounds can contribute to a homosexual orientation, and they deserve to be lovingly healed by our churches with care and respect.
For men and women who have taken a “gay” or lesbian identity and a “gay” lifestyle—you also are welcome into our churches. You are welcome to boldly face God’s Word together with us that calls all of us to His perfect design for our sexuality—male and female sexual intimacy in a monogamous, life long marriage. In the same way, atheists and skeptics are also welcome to join us, as we all respond to God’s revelation to us in Christ Jesus. We welcome you as does Jesus Himself, who opens his arms to all who would put their faith in him. We exclude no one that would want to be a disciple of Jesus along with us, based upon the authority and teaching of his written Word. As for sexuality, God’s Word explicitly teaches His perfect design for male/female intimacy. When God created male and female in His own image, His response was that it was “very good.” We thank God for creating both sexes, and we welcome anyone to our churches who want to grow with us into the fullness of this God given design for sexuality and marriage.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I'm always on the lookout for good succinct articles on the Trinity, and ran across the excellent article by John Piper. Enjoy.--Glenn
What is the Doctrine of the Trinity?
The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Phil. 1:2), the Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3-4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or simply ways of referring to three different roles that God plays?
The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. For example, since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), He cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.
In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father speaking from heaven and the Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove as Jesus comes out of the water (Mark 1:10-11). In John 1:1 it is affirmed that Jesus is God and, at the same time, that He was "with God"--thereby indicating that Jesus is a distinct Person from God the Father (cf. also 1:18). And in John 16:13-15 we see that although there is a close unity between them all, the Holy Spirit is also distinct from the Father and the Son.
The fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons means, in other words, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Jesus is God, but He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but He is not the Son or the Father. They are different Persons, not three different ways of looking at God.
The personhood of each member of the Trinity means that each Person has a distinct center of consciousness. Thus, they relate to each other personally--the Father regards Himself as "I," while He regards the Son and Holy Spirit as "You." Likewise the Son regards Himself as "I," but the Son and the Holy Spirit as "You."
Often it is objected that "If Jesus is God, then he must have prayed to himself while he was on earth." But the answer to this objection lies in simply applying what we have already seen. While Jesus and the Father are both God, they are different Persons. Thus, Jesus prayed to God the Father without praying to Himself. In fact, it is precisely the continuing dialog between the Father and the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 5:19; 11:41-42; 17:1ff) which furnishes the best evidence that they are distinct Persons with distinct centers of consciousness.
Sometimes the Personhood of the Father and Son is appreciated, but the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is neglected. Sometimes the Spirit is treated more like a "force" than a person. But the Holy Spirit is not an it, but a He (see John 14:26; 16:7-15; Acts 8:16). The fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not an impersonal force (like gravity), is also shown by the fact that He speaks (Hebrews 3:7), reasons (Acts 15:28), thinks and understands (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), wills (1 Corinthians 12:11), feels (Ephesians 4:30), and gives personal fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14). These are all qualities of personhood. In addition to these texts, the others we mentioned above make clear that the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Personhood of the Son and the Father. They are three real persons, not three roles God plays.
Another serious error people have made is to think that the Father became the Son, who then became the Holy Spirit. Contrary to this, the passages we have seen imply that God always was and always will be three Persons. There was never a time when one of the Persons of the Godhead did not exist. They are all eternal.
While the three members of the Trinity are distinct, this does not mean that any is inferior to the other. Instead, they are all identical in attributes. They are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.
Each Person is fully God. If God is three Persons, does this mean that each Person is "one-third" of God? Does the Trinity mean that God is divided into three parts?
The Trinity does not divide God into three parts. The Bible is clear that all three Persons are each one hundred percent God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully God. For example, it says of Christ that "in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). We should not think of God as like a "pie" cut into three pieces, each piece representing a Person. This would make each Person less than fully God and thus not God at all. Rather, "the being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God." The divine essence is not something that is divided between the three persons, but is fully in all three persons without being divided into "parts."
Thus, the Son is not one-third of the being of God, He is all of the being of God. The Father is not one-third of the being of God, He is all of the being of God. And likewise with the Holy Spirit. Thus, as Wayne Grudem writes, "When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together we are not speaking of any greater being than when we speak of the Father alone, the Son alone, or the Holy Spirit alone."
There is only one God. If each Person of the Trinity is distinct and yet fully God, then should we conclude that there is more than one God? Obviously we cannot, for Scripture is clear that there is only one God: "There is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:21-22; see also 44:6-8; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4-5; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Kings 8:60).
Having seen that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, that they are each fully God, and that there is nonetheless only one God, we must conclude that all three Persons are the same God. In other words, there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons.
If there is one passage which most clearly brings all of this together, it is Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." First, notice that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished as distinct Persons. We baptize into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Second, notice that each Person must be deity because they are all placed on the same level. In fact, would Jesus have us baptize in the name of a mere creature? Surely not. Therefore each of the Persons into whose name we are to be baptized must be deity. Third, notice that although the three divine Persons are distinct, we are baptized into their name (singular), not names (plural). The three Persons are distinct, yet only constitute one name. This can only be if they share one essence.
This leads us to investigate more closely a very helpful definition of the Trinity which I mentioned earlier: God is one in essence, but three in Person. This formulation can show us why there are not three Gods, and why the Trinity is not a contradiction.
In order for something to be contradictory, it must violate the law of noncontradiction. This law states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, you have contradicted yourself if you affirm and deny the same statement. For example, if I say that the moon is made entirely of cheese but then also say that the moon is not made entirely of cheese, I have contradicted myself.
Other statements may at first seem contradictory but are really not. Theologian R. C. Sproul cites as an example Dickens' famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Obviously this is a contradiction if Dickens means that it was the best of times in the same way that it was the worst of times. But he avoids contradiction with this statement because he means that in one sense it was the best of times, but in another sense it was the worst of times.
Carrying this concept over to the Trinity, it is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way. He is three in a different way than He is one. Thus, we are not speaking with a forked tongue-we are not saying that God is one and then denying that He is one by saying that He is three. This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way.
How is God one? He is one in essence. How is God three? He is three in person. Essence and person are not the same thing. God is one in a certain way (essence) and three in a different way (person). Since God is one in a different way than He is three, the Trinity is not a contradiction. There would only be a contradiction if we said that God is three in the same way that He is one.
So a closer look at the fact that God is one in essence but three in person has helped to show why the Trinity is not a contradiction. But how does it show us why there is only one God instead of three? It is very simple: All three Persons are one God because, as we saw above, they are all the same essence. Essence means the same thing as "being." Thus, since God is only one essence, He is only one being--not three. This should make it clear why it is so important to understand that all three Persons are the same essence. For if we deny this, we have denied God's unity and affirmed that there is more than one being of God (i.e., that there is more than one God).
What we have seen so far provides a good basic understanding of the Trinity. But it is possible to go deeper. If we can understand more precisely what is meant by essence and person, how these two terms differ, and how they relate, we will then have a more complete understanding of the Trinity.
Essence and Person
Essence. What does essence mean? As I said earlier, it means the same thing as being. God's essence is His being. To be even more precise, essence is what you are. At the risk of sounding too physical, essence can be understood as the "stuff" that you "consist of." Of course we are speaking by analogy here, for we cannot understand this in a physical way about God. "God is spirit" (John 4:24). Further, we clearly should not think of God as "consisting of" anything other than divinity. The "substance" of God is God, not a bunch of "ingredients" that taken together yield deity.
Person. In regards to the Trinity, we use the term "Person" differently than we generally use it in everyday life. Therefore it is often difficult to have a concrete definition of Person as we use it in regards to the Trinity. What we do not mean by Person is an "independent individual" in the sense that both I and another human are separate, independent individuals who can exist apart from one another.
What we do mean by Person is something that regards himself as "I" and others as "You." So the Father, for example, is a different Person from the Son because He regards the Son as a "You," even though He regards Himself as "I." Thus, in regards to the Trinity, we can say that "Person" means a distinct subject which regards Himself as an "I" and the other two as a "You." These distinct subjects are not a division within the being of God, but "a form of personal existence other than a difference in being."
How do they relate? The relationship between essence and Person, then, is as follows. Within God's one, undivided being is an "unfolding" into three personal distinctions. These personal distinctions are modes of existence within the divine being, but are not divisions of the divine being. They are personal forms of existence other than a difference in being. The late theologian Herman Bavinck has stated something very helpful at this point: "The persons are modes of existence within the being; accordingly, the Persons differ among themselves as the one mode of existence differs from the other, and--using a common illustration-as the open palm differs from a closed fist."
Because each of these "forms of existence" are relational (and thus are Persons), they are each a distinct center of consciousness, with each center of consciousness regarding Himself as "I" and the others as "You." Nonetheless, these three Persons all "consist of" the same "stuff" (that is, the same "what," or essence). As some have explained it, while essence is what you are, person is who you are. So God is one "what" but three "whos."
The divine essence is thus not something that exists "above" or separate from the three Persons, but the divine essence is the being of the three Persons. Neither should we think of the Persons as being defined by attributes added on to the being of God. Wayne Grudem explains:
But if each person is fully God and has all of God's being, then we also should not think that the personal distinctions are any kind of additional attributes added on to the being of God . . . Rather, each person of the Trinity has all of the attributes of God, and no one Person has any attributes that are not possessed by the others. On the other hand, we must say that the Persons are real, that they are not just different ways of looking at the one being of God...the only way it seems possible to do this is to say that the distinction between the persons is not a difference of `being' but a difference of `relationships.' This is something far removed from our human experience, where every different human `person' is a different being as well. Somehow God's being is so much greater than ours that within his one undivided being there can be an unfolding into interpersonal relationships, so that there can be three distinct persons.
There are many illustrations which have been offered to help us understand the Trinity. While there are some illustrations which are helpful, we should recognize that no illustration is perfect. Unfortunately, there are many illustrations which are not simply imperfect, but in error. One illustration to beware of is the one which says "I am one person, but I am a student, son, and brother. This explains how God can be both one and three." The problem with this is that it reflects a heresy called modalism. God is not one person who plays three different roles, as this illustration suggests. He is one Being in three Persons (centers of consciousness), not merely three roles. This analogy ignores the personal distinctions within God and mitigates them to mere roles.
Why is it important to understand what it means to worship a triune God? The Trinity is first of all important because God is important. To understand more fully what God is like is a way of honoring God. Further, we should allow the fact that God is triune to deepen our worship. We exist to worship God. And God seeks people to worship Him in "spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Therefore we must always endeavor to deepen our worship of God--in truth as well as in our hearts.
The Trinity also has a very significant application to prayer. The general pattern of prayer in the Bible is to pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). Our fellowship with God should be enhanced by consciously knowing that we are relating to a tri-personal God!
Awareness of the distinct role that each Person of the Trinity has in our salvation can especially serve to give us greater comfort and appreciation for God in our prayers, as well as helping us to be specific in directing our prayers. Nonetheless, while recognizing the distinct roles that each Person has, we should never think of their roles as so separate that the other Persons are not involved. Rather, everything that one Person is involved in, the other two are also involved in, one way or another.
1. The Trinity is not belief in three gods. There is only one God.
2. This one God exists as three Persons.
3. The three Persons are not each a part of God, but are each fully God and equally God. Within God's one undivided being there is an unfolding into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three Persons. The distinctions within the Godhead are not distinctions of His essence and neither are they something added on to His essence, but they are the unfolding of God's one, undivided being into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three real Persons.
4. God is not one person who took three consecutive roles. That is the heresy of modalism. The Father did not become the Son and then the Holy Spirit. Instead, there have always been and always will be three distinct persons in the Godhead.
5. The Trinity is not a contradiction because God is not three in the same way that He is one. God is one in essence, three in Person.
CLASSIC LIBERALISM, in which a pastor or theologian may dismiss the Creation story, or Noah's Ark, or Jonah and the Whale, or the Resurrection of Jesus as fables, has virtually ceased to exist.
What now forms the heart of the theological left is a far more subtle and elusive beast: I call it existential liberalism.
The Old Liberalism dismissed the miracles as fables; the New Liberalism embraces the miraculous as useful myths. Its root is a profoundly different concept of Truth and History.
"Truth" is a utilitarian concept in New Liberalism. We all have our truths, and the greatest truth is that all truths are equally vaild. Therefore, the greatest offense is the claim of having discovered--or being discovered by an exclusive Truth.
So the Existential Liberal is not offended that you believe that Adam was a literal man. That is your truth. But to maintain that this truth is universal Truth--that is offensive.
When I was pastoring in New Hampshire, we had a ministerial association that ran from Unitarian to Catholic to Charismatic. I recall the pastor of the Congregational Church (all the locals called it the "Cong" Church--pronounced like the Kong in King Kong) who refered to the "pre-scientific" nature of the creation account. Honestly, I found his chronologicalism rather funny, like 2oth century people who had the termerity to call an earlier era "The Dark Ages"--this from the century that produced Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.
That "pre-scientific" remark--made around 1987 or so--is rarer today. It was an attitude tied to modernism, and modernism has collasped into the river of Post-Modernism. As I taught at our church's Summer Bible Institute this last summer, the gist of post-modernism is caught in the words, "No Big Stories." (Except, as a a pastor friend pointed out, that is the Big Story of post-modernism.)
Biblical Christianity is incompatible with post-modernism. We believe in the Ultimate Big Story. Creation--Fall--Redemption through the Cross of Jesus.
That is why Biblical Christianity is not only incompatible with the old dying Liberalism, but also with the newer Existential Liberalism.
As a shadow of the Biblical redemptive element, one thing both the Old and New Liberalism has in common is a socio-political reinterpretation of redemption. The dominent motif of the New Redemption shifts from the Cross to the Exodus, which is seen as a paradigm of deliverance from all kinds of slavery to all kinds of promised lands. Hence the various Liberationisms as the religious-secular replacement of the Cross: Marxist, Feminist, Gay/Bisexual/Lesbian/Transgendered. These liberationisms arise unencumbered by the mere words of Scripture. What is far more relevant is the grand movement of Exodus liberation. God, we are told, is on the side of oppressed. That is all we need to know. That is as far as we are to enquire.
There is doubtless a socio-political impact of the gospel. No responsible exegete denies that. But to make that aspect the heart of redemption is a mistake. It falls short of and literally perverts the Biblical idea of redemption, which is to rescue at great cost the fallen into the love and way of the Lord--ultimately by the Cross of Jesus.
This Biblical gospel is what we contend for: the gospel of God the Father, the Creator, Jesus the Son, the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, the Empowerer.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Oct 26, 2005
By James Patterson
Faith under fire
Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, visits with Texas prisoners participating in the voluntary, faith-based InnerChange Freedom Initiative – now the target of a federal lawsuit in Iowa.
The plaintiffs, including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Jerry Ashburn, an inmate at Iowa’s Newton Correctional Facility about 23 miles east of Des Moines, are suing Virginia-based Prison Fellowship and its Christian rehabilitation program, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative.
The lawsuit alleges that the voluntary program is an excessive entanglement of church and state violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to the Iowa constitution.
Prison Fellowship, which was founded by Watergate figure Chuck Colson, has operated InnerChange at the Newton facility since 1999. Currently, about 220 inmates participate in the values-based program, which Prison Fellowship also operates in Texas, Kansas and Minnesota.
The plaintiffs are opposed to the state’s partial financing of the program. The Iowa legislature has appropriated $310,000 in the current fiscal year for a “value-based treatment program” at the Newton facility.
The case, widely regarding as a challenge to President Bush’s policy for faith-based initiatives, eventually could reach the Supreme Court. Bush has praised the InnerChange program for its effectiveness. A University of Pennsylvania study in 2003 found that the recidivism rate for the first 200 inmates to graduate from the program in Texas was only 8 percent after two years, compared to a secular vocational program serving Texas offenders that had a 23 percent rate. The InnerChange program was started in Texas in April 1997.
The plaintiffs in the Iowa suit claim that the faith-based program is unconstitutional because participants must pass a “religious litmus test” in order to join. But the defendants say no public money is applied to the religious aspects of the program, which also includes education and life skills training.
In opening arguments on Oct. 24, Alex Luchenitser, a lawyer representing Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said prison officials have permitted a religious group “to take over an entire unit and to turn it into an evangelical Christian church.” The only way inmates can get into the faith-based rehabilitation program is “by being subjected to religious indoctrination,” Luchenitser claimed.
However, Mark Earley, president and chief executive officer of Prison Fellowship, told Baptist Press that the 18- to 24-month pre-release values-based program is constitutional because inmates must choose to become involved.
“The program is voluntary,” Earley said. “It’s open to any inmate who would like to participate. There’s no religious test, so one can be a Christian, one can be a Muslim, one can be Jewish, one can be an atheist. We’ve had Druids and Wiccans participate in the program, so there is no faith test to be involved in the program.”
Nonetheless, InnerChange is centered on the teachings of the Bible, Earley said. “It is a Christian program. It is Christ-centered, so we make that clear up front; we disclose that to everyone,” he said. Prospective participants are required to complete a 30-day orientation, giving them a chance to evaluate the program and withdraw if they don’t like it.
“So people know with eyes open what they are signing up for. They volunteer for the program because they are looking to effect a life’s transformation that will help them not return to prison,” said Earley, who was Virginia’s attorney general from 1997-2001.
“We have 2 million people in prison today in America; 600,000 of them will get out this year and they are returning to prison at a rate of over 50 percent after three years,” Earley said. By contrast, he noted that the recidivism rate for offenders who graduated from the Prison Fellowship program in all four states where it has operated ranges from 8 percent to 11.
Organizers of the program contend that a strong aftercare component helps to keep former inmates from returning to prison. After participants get out, they are paired with a mentor and a local church in their community. The mentor stays in close contact for at least six months, often longer. The ex-offenders are required to stay employed, attend church regularly, do community service and keep in touch with their mentor.
All funding for the InnerChange Initiative in Texas is raised from the private sector. In Iowa, 40 percent of the cost of the program comes from the state; in Kansas, 27 percent of it is state-funded; in Minnesota, 22 percent. Every dollar allotted by those states goes to pay for nonsectarian or nonreligious aspects of the program. Public money, for instance, helps inmates without a high school diploma who join the program earn a high school equivalency certificate, which is a requirement for graduation.
“It’s a holistic program, so we are not only doing faith-based things but we are also doing educational things and vocational things in training as well,” Earley said. “The reason the states are interested in this program is because by reducing the recidivism rate, the rate at which prisoners return to prison, they are promoting public safety. Every time a prisoner is out and commits a crime, it’s another victim.
“And they are also reducing the burden on the taxpayer,” Earley said. “This program, from the state’s point of view, has a secular purpose and that purpose is to keep the public safe. And secondly, to reduce the burden on the taxpayer of this revolving door where criminals are coming out, committing crimes, coming back in and costing the taxpayers some $40,000 a year.”
Under the InnerChange program, Earley said, “Every prisoner still has constitutional freedom when it comes to his faith.
“So, a prisoner can go to chapel or Bible study, that sort of thing. It’s voluntary, they can leave the program any day or they can come into the program. The real practical advantage they get is a changed life. Part of the program is helping to reconcile them to their families and their children.”
The case, which is expected to continue through Nov. 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Central Division in Des Moines, will be decided by Judge Robert W. Pratt.
TO: The entire ABCPSW Broadcast E-Mail database
FROM: Dr. Dale V. Salico, Executive Minister
SUBJECT: An important resolution passed by the ABCPSW Board of Directors
“Because the deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA are understood by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW as irreconcilable, the Board . . . [will] initiate the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA. . .”
The ABCPSW Executive Committee will report to the Board of Directors on the implications of withdrawing from the covenant with the ABCUSA on December 8. Upon approval by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW, a recommendation regarding withdrawing from the Covenant of Relationships will be sent to the churches for a vote at a specially called meeting of the Region. (We are anticipating that this meeting will take place in early spring 2006.)
Many questions are being asked by pastors, leaders, church members, missionaries, chaplains, and other leaders across our nation and world. We feel it is very important to address your questions in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Initially, we communicated directly to our churches and pastors via specially called meetings and a “Frequently Asked Questions” format. We are now extending these communications to our entire e-mail database. All four FAQs addressing the ABCPSW’s possible withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships are available on our website at www.abcpsw.com.
If, after reading thru the FAQs, you have a question that has not yet been asked, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make every effort to address it in the next FAQ communication. All FAQs will be posted on our website.
If you do not want to receive future electronic News Releases, please reply and ask us to remove you from these communications.
We invite you to join us in fasting and praying the last Friday of every month until the vote is taken…
What to Pray About:
- Pray that our Region listen to the Lord’s leading and avoid anything that does not honor Him.
- Pray for our Executive Minister, Dr. Dale Salico and our Region Board - that the leadership decisions they make will glorify Christ.
- Pray for the upcoming meeting of the Regional Executive Ministers (REMC) and the General Board that will face many of the same issues that we are facing here in PSW.
- Pray for a renewal of ABCUSA across the country.
- Pray that our churches make the right decision regarding withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships with ABCUSA.
- Pray for our churches to be transformed by a new vision for reaching their world’s for Christ, and pray for the raising up of empowered leaders in all our churches to strengthen our churches.
- “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger …. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” – Phillips Brooks, Minister 1835-1893
VF is afraid of, and does not understand, its churches. They are afraid of a PSW style uprising. But I also think that the VF leadership is quite baffled. The proletariat isn't supposed to act this way. They have gone off the reservation. What those churches are supposed to do is give money and shut up.
Remember: the reason for their westward trek is not to listen; it's to talk. (Looking back, that was the fundamental mistake Dr. Medley made in early September. That's why that meeting was such a disaster: the underclass--pastors and members of churches--were allowed to speak.)
And in their talking, look for a shameless OJ trial race card play. It's all about trying to split off non-white churches from the white portion of the PSW.
And it won't work.
Anyone at the Medley Meltdown in Covina can testify to the fact that it didn't matter: white, black, asian, hispanic, male and female all rose to say, "Enough!"
Which is what I'm expecting the Gang of Four to say when they get the plane to fly back to Philly...
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Kudos to the Dog
What can I say but that Dennis McFadden knocked two runs out of the park today over at www.hisbarkingdog.blogspot.com ? (The Angels could have used him against the Sox.)
First, he analyzed remarks from Timothy Bonney about the "conservatives out of their pen" in Mid-America . Then he follows up with some thoughts about the shrinking middle.
This relates to something I've often blogged about: the fallacy of the false center. That's the tendancy we all have to think we personally represent the reasonable middle, and there be dragons to the right and left. Also, since we mostly hang out with people who think like us, and since we are all so reasonable, the dragons are (1) small in number and (2) lunatics.
Maybe it's because I've served churches across the US (from NH to PA to OH to CA), I tend to have a more rounded view of the denomination. The heart of the ABC is center right, and the heart of the Valley Forge leadership is center to hard left. When I was on the General Board, I was on the task force dealing with abortion (this was from 1983-87 as I recall). In truth, pro-lifers dominated the hearings we held--even one in the heart of Manhatten. Also, pro-life sentiment in the form of letters greatly outnumbered the pro-choice letters.
But as a member of that Task Force told me, "The sheer numbers don't matter. The point is, there is a diversity of opinion in the denomination."
Now at the time, I was a Democrat. (There's a point to this, be patient.) Yet I pointed out to the person I just mentioned that even though I opposed the "Star Wars" defense system I was appalled that a resolution comdenming SDI had just been adopted by the General Board on just that ground--that "there is a diversity of opinion among American Baptists." She literally laughed and said, "But everybody agrees on that!"
I was on the Board of International Ministries. During an "open forum" time, I shared that I'd received a number of letters critical of the unqualified support that a certain missionary in Nicaragua was giving to the Sandanistas. You must understand, I was in my 20s, and a bit intimidated by the General Board "scene." My comments were very mild; I remember saying "Could it be that we're backing the wrong horse there?" (I would put it this way, now, in view of the actual track record of the Sandanistas: "Why are we backing Stalinist thugs?" See the difference?) Entirely out of order, the Latin America secretary stood and berated me.
So today, am I shocked by the tactics, mindset and actions of the VF politburo? Not in the least.
And I think I know why: VF is afraid of, and does not understand, its churches. They are afraid of a PSW style uprising. But I also think that the VF leadership is quite baffled. The proletariat isn't supposed to act this way. They have gone off the reservation. What those churches are supposed to do is give money and shut up. After all, they all think like us, don't they? Don't they? DON'T THEY???
See Dennis McFadden's thoughts on the way MMBB (especially arch-liberal Sumner Grant as head) is handling the enforcer aspect of the ABC implosion.
Reminds me of a movie...
Monday, October 24, 2005
October 24, 57 AD
Disgruntled Conservatives Are to Blame (Of Course)
A schism threatens the peace of the new “Christian” faith, according to sources speaking to the Times.
“This split is entirely unnecessary,” said Christian philosopher Antonius Campolius, reputed intellectual and really good speaker. “We can live together while disagreeing over details of our faith.”
Some churches have adopted a policy referred to a WAG: “Welcoming and Affirming to Gnostics.” Gnosticism is a very minor variation from the “old way” championed by such arch-conservatives as Peter and Paul.
Peter, whose real name is Simon, is an uneducated Galilean fisherman turned stump preacher. He has been known to clash with Paul, which is also an assumed name. He was born Saul of Tarsus, received a theologian education in
Medlius Rex, a gentle soul, and church leader, asked of all, “Can’t we just get along?” Rex, who himself is not a Gnostic, says that to split over Gnostism would be a tragedy. “It would also be a violation of our polity,” added Rex. “We believe is Soul Freedom. And Dialogue. And the United
Paul, currently protective Roman custody, wasn’t immediately available for comment. But Peter, when reached for comment, said. “We must obey God and not men.”
Campolius was not impressed. “Look, I’ve know Pete for years, and I really like him, but he’s been using that same old tired line for years.
“He just has to come to grips with the fact that not all Christians believe things the same, and that we have to give each other a little grace. I mean, some of us believe that Jesus didn’t have a real body, or in demiurges, you know, things that I personally don’t believe in, but it’s not my place to be judge my fellow believers.”
Rex announced that he will be visiting among of what he called the “Petrine Churches” to explain that no matter what Peter and Paul say, no matter the massive difference in values, no matter the vast gulf in theology, they are still one big happy family.
Any resemblance to current events are purely intentional.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
By K. Connie Kang, Times Staff Writer
The Rev. David M. Scholer, a prominent New Testament scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary, has lived with constant pain and side effects from the treatment since he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 3 1/2 years ago.
The cancer is incurable, he says, and has spread to both lungs.
"I have outlived some of the predictions already. And I have no idea how much more life I have," Scholer, 67, an ordained Baptist minister, told the First Baptist Church of Pasadena congregation during a recent sermon.
Living with incurable cancer is like having "a terrorist bomb strapped on your back," said Scholer, who with his wife, Jeannette, is a member of the church. "You don't know when it's going to go off."
Despite the illness and fatigue, Scholer continues to teach and supervise the PhD program and its 155 candidates at the Pasadena seminary's Center for Advanced Theological Studies, where he has been associate dean since 1997.
The way he is continuing with his duties has made Scholer a role model for living with an incurable disease, many people at the seminary say.
Students, faculty and members of congregations where he speaks are deeply moved to see how he uses his suffering to minister to others.
At the beginning of every course, Scholer tells his students about his condition so they're not surprised. In his teaching, however, he mostly sticks to the subject: the New Testament.
"The kind of [theological] knowledge we have doesn't give us any special status," he told seminarians in his class. "But there is a special responsibility we have to share it."
His voice is hoarse, a side effect of the many medications he takes. And he lectures while seated, because it tires him to stand.
Until cancer struck, Scholer traveled the world to speak at seminaries, universities and conferences. Only a few months before his diagnosis, he taught a three-week course on the Book of Romans at Moscow Theological Seminary, the only Baptist seminary in Russia.
Now his destinations are mostly local churches, where he teaches from the New Testament and shares his journey of living with cancer. His next sermon, "Prisoners of Hope: Living With Cancer," is scheduled for Nov. 13 at First Baptist Church of Los Angeles in Wilshire Center/Koreatown.
When you have cancer, Scholer said, it is important to know how you live with the disease — in relationship to yourself, to your family and friends and to God.
"Cancer doesn't change everything, but it does give everything a new perspective," he said in his sermon at the Pasadena church.
"One of the greatest lessons I've learned is the value of memory and recollection," said Scholer, a large man with an enthusiastic manner.
"I revel every day in remembering all the good things of my life — all the wonderful things I have been given: my family, my friends," he said. "I can't travel much anymore, so I think of all the places I've been. The joys and achievements of the past don't mean I live in the past, but I do celebrate with gratitude what has been."
Jerry Ransom Wilkerson, a former Air Force captain who took Scholer's New Testament course last year, described the teacher as "a walking testimony of his faith."
"Every day I sat there and I was amazed," said Wilkerson, who is working on a master's degree in divinity in preparation for the ministry. "On the first day of the class, he said: 'I have an incurable disease.' He wasn't mincing words. He had accepted it."
A month ago, when Wilkerson was considering canceling a preaching engagement in Philadelphia because he was ill, he thought of his professor.
"I may have been sick, but Dr. Scholer is ill all the time," he said. "He doesn't let that sickness stop him from doing what God has called him to do." Wilkerson kept the appointment.
Jill Williams, who will complete her master's degree in divinity in June, says she was in Scholer's class the quarter he learned his cancer had returned.
"Ironically, I do not remember a marked difference in his teaching before and after the diagnosis," she said. "He consistently taught with joy, theological conviction and passion throughout the quarter."
In a recent interview in his book-lined office, Scholer described his wife of 45 years as "the best caregiver in the world." (They were classmates at Wheaton College in Illinois, and she is director of academic programs at Fuller's School of Theology.)
Scholer talked about some of his daily challenges beyond the rounds of medical appointments. Fatigue means sleeping nine to 10 hours a night, and napping too. His fingers and toes tingle constantly. His colostomy bag causes a lot of difficulties.
"Every morning, when I get out of bed, I have to confess, one of my first thoughts is: I wish I could have just one more normal day," he said.
"Within three minutes, I am painfully aware of my limitations. Within five minutes, I can predict how the day is going to go. And the battle is — to put it frankly — the will to keep going. To say each day, 'I want to live. I want to enjoy today. I want to push forward with everything I am able to muster.' "
So, he said, you learn the limits of what you can do.
The theologian, a Minnesota native who received his doctorate at Harvard Divinity School, was ordained in the American Baptist Church USA in 1966 and worked as a pastor. After teaching at three other seminaries around the country, he came to Fuller in 1994.
Scholer is an authority on Gnosticism and has written books dealing with the ancient religious movement that stressed salvation by knowledge and found a home in early Christianity. He has also written books on New Testament interpretation and on the importance of having women in ministry.
His course "Women, the Bible and the Church" has been the most popular elective at Fuller.
He collects Bibles. In his home library is a personal collection of 400, including rare English translations.
As he continues with teaching and research, Scholer said, he is experiencing the meaning of living one day at a time.
"Nobody who went to the World Trade Center on 9/11 said, 'Oh, I am going to die there today,' " he said.
When he thinks about his last day, he sometimes wants just his wife and their two adult daughters at his bedside.
But at other moments, he thinks of a hundred people he would want there.
In life's ups and downs, what's important to realize is that God's ways are well "above our ways," he said. "Maturity in faith is the ability to accept mystery and ambiguity."
His message is this: "I really do trust in God. I believe in God's comfort and love. I believe that God is the giver of life, and that means to affirm this life, as well as to have faith in the life to come. God has given me life. I feel I have a calling in life."
But, for the terminally ill, a time comes when the will to live doesn't work anymore, he said.
"So, as an incurable-cancer patient, I give myself to God," Scholer said. "My life is in God's hands."
Blogger's note: I had Dr. Scholar for a couple of course back when he was at Gordon-Conwell. God bless you, Dr. Scholar.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Despite the date, I thought this letter from the Exec of ABC of the West (No. Calif., NW Nevada) nails the dysfunction in the leadership of the ABCUSA. This, my friends, is what leadership looks like. I know some Executive Ministers read this. Some of you no doubt have seen Borden's letter. Some of you despise what it says. But you'd be hard-pressed to deny its truth. If you want to lead, not just dither and manage, look at this.
Letter to ABCW Pastors from Dr. Borden
Dr. Paul Borden
Executive Minister, ABCW
Sep 1, 2005
Pastors, ABCW Region
The mission of the region since 1997 has been to "Grow Healthy Churches". It has not changed and is not changing. My strategy has been to keep us on target in working with congregations that are going through transformation, along with those congregations that are reproducing new congregations, while remaining silent on much that is happening in our denomination at the National level. This silence does not mean that your regional leaders have not been involved. For example, I had extensive participation in creating the new budget covenant, worked with other regions interested in pursuing some of the strategies we have developed to produce healthy, growing congregations, and signed the pastoral letter, along with more than twenty other executive ministers, asking the denomination to put a moratorium on open homosexual practices in the denomination. The region has supported our Minister's Council representatives in their struggle with the issue of homosexuality. We sent several representatives to the New Life 2010 update put on by National Ministries last year. We were actively involved in the recent “Seek It” process. Teresa and I participated in the mission's trip to Prague taken by the GEC. These are just some of the activities I and others have participated in along with the General Board meetings etc.
However, our office has received emails, phone calls, and letters about what is happening across the nation with ABC-USA. Many of the inquiries were prompted by our General Secretary's letter recently sent to all ABC congregations (I assume) stating that the denomination was on target with its mission and that the future for ABC-USA looked good. In light of rumors, questions, etc about financial problems with the denomination, the talk of numbers of congregations and even regions leaving the denomination, there are questions about how all these activities fit with the letter of the General Secretary. Therefore I thought I would like to share with you my perspective on what is happening. I wanted to wait until after this Biennial and recent board meetings to write, in order to see what would or would not happen at these events.
Before sharing my perspective I want to say several things about the denomination and our General Secretary. First, in a denomination our size we need to understand that many good things are happening. God is at work in some congregations, regions, national strategies, and overseas mission fields in some significant ways. There are many good pastors, missionaries, lay leaders, region executives, and national staff members who love God, are committed to Jesus Christ and are working their hardest to serve their God well. I believe our General Secretary to be a Godly man who lives, as well as anyone, his commitment to Jesus Christ. He was a friend to our region when the previous national leadership orchestrated the investigation taken by the General Board into our region’s life and ministry. He made sure the process was fair which allowed the region to be vindicated and the lies that had been spread were not allowed to stand.
Having said this, I do find myself in great disagreement with the General Secretary about the denomination and its future. I believe we are watching the implosion of the organization. From my perspective the question is not if it will occur but how long the process will take to unfold. I want to share with you three major reasons why I believe this is the path we are on as a denomination.
First, the General Secretary, the General Board, and many key National Leaders are unwilling to take a stand on the homosexual issue. As you know, our region settled this question back in 1996 and as a result we have been able to focus on our mission and doing what God wants us to do to help congregations become healthy, grow and reproduce. Many times I wonder if part of God's blessing on our region is because the pastors and congregations of ABCW in 1996 did take a stand. I realize that in the Scriptures God works through evil people, mediocre believers, and Godly people. However, God's pattern is to work primarily through those who honor Him and His Word. Therefore God may bless ABC-USA since He is sovereign. But, I believe the odds are against it since we as a denomination are not willing to honor His Word. It is interesting to me that most of the congregations in ABCW that opposed the stand the region took are still struggling and making little impact on their communities in the making of disciples.
It is important to understand that taking a position is not saying that any one person, congregation, or denomination is better than anyone else. All people, congregations, and denominations are filled with sinning people who constantly struggle with sin. However, when we call sin, sin and not try to redefine it as a “life-style choice” that has God’s blessing, we then offer people hope, forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Congregations are urged to disband Pastoral Relations Committees in our region since they have become institutionalized gossip groups. We have redefined sin (triangulation or gossip) as pastoral concern. We now call such actions sin and then have people seek forgiveness. The problem is deciding whether the Bible speaks to homosexuality or any other sin with authority or it does not. The failure of our national leaders to call this sin a sin and act accordingly risks God’s blessing on the denomination.
The decision could be made differently. This summer the oldest denomination in America, The Reformed Church in America, took a stand despite pressure from within their ranks. This denomination decided to deal with the scriptures forthrightly and honestly and act in accordance with their beliefs rather than playing word games and trying to appease those who struggle with the authority of God's Word in both their faith and practice.
The second reason I believe our denomination is in trouble is that I do not believe our national leaders know what to do to turn things around. The majority of people in leadership positions do not know what is required of them as leaders. If such were the case, things would have begun to change a long time ago. I also do not know whether they have the ability or experience to lead; if they do, it has not been demonstrated. All one has to do is to look at the new mission statement that was generated in the “Seek It” process. It is a page long and is not even close to being memorable. It reminds me of the old joke that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. This joke describes accurately the new mission statement and how it came into being. The “Seek It” process was flawed from the beginning and all it has produced is a long description of what our denomination should be doing, but never will. Anyone who understands leadership knows such to be true.
The third reason I think our denomination is in trouble is because of what many of our congregations have learned about the life cycles of organizations. Organizations on the down side of a life cycle, which is where ABC-USA is, have placed structure above mission and vision. All one has to do is attend one national board meeting or biennial to realize that ABC-USA is dominated by a structure that will get in the way of any vision or mission. We say we are a growing mainline denomination, yet my understanding is that for years we have not purged our roles of the many congregations that have left ABC-USA. If such is the case, then our denomination is like many of our ABCW congregations in 1997 that had gone from 300 to 150 in worship, with a membership that continued to increase since it was not purged. Our denominational leaders are obsessed with the representative process. Such obsession may be fine to maintain the status quo, but it will not produce any sustained commitment to radical discipleship or anything close to the page long mission statement that has been adopted.
For change to occur, radical discipleship and radical love need to be joined to a radical commitment to the Word of God and radical leadership. When this occurs we are centered in Jesus Christ.
These three key reasons, plus numerous others, are why I disagree with our General Secretary. I do believe he thinks he is right. I do not question his integrity in the statements he makes. I do, however, disagree with his assessment of the present and the future of ABC-USA. That is why I, along with over seventy other leaders in the denomination, have created the Great Commission Network. This is an interdenominational network of congregations that are committed to Biblical integrity (not afraid of signing a basic statement of Biblical orthodoxy) and ministry excellence. We have a vision for 1000 ABC-USA congregations, along with others from other denominations, to become part of this network. We are not trying to start another denomination or are even interested in such. We are trying to minister to congregations and pastors to help them become healthy and growing. We are committed to doing what our denomination should have been doing for years and has not. There are already five other regions, along with ABCW, committed to this network.
I have written this letter as the leader of the region to share with you my perspective.
I have not written to create dialogue. In 1996 our region under the leadership of Dr. Robert Rasmussen made the decision to act against the homosexual agenda that our National Leaders are now tolerating. Although I normally answer all letters that are signed, I do not intend to dialogue over a matter we settled almost a decade ago. We are committed to “Grow Healthy Churches” as we have been doing for the past eight years. ABCW will continue to focus on the transformation and reproduction of healthy congregations. My primary responsibility as Executive Minister is to keep us on target with our mission and vision.
In everything we do, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our salvation. And, let’s never lose sight of our call to fulfill the Great Commission.
Sincerely, Paul D. Borden
ABCW Executive Minister
Friday, October 21, 2005
You may notice that Durable Data looks different. Maybe with so much more exposure, it was time for an Extreme Makeover. You also now can post comments. Right now, ANYONE can post comments, but if I get spammed or slammed by a lot of anonymous prozac-deprived wackos, I may change that.
Your humble blogger,
Now posted on the WV Baptist Covention Website:
Vote to Immediately withdraw from ABCUSA (Sponsered by WV Baptists for Truth):
YES: 325 (41%)
NO: 391 (59%)
May I note here that when 41% of a group wants out of Dodge right now, it's not a sign of health and contentment?
Vote to "reaffirm our historic relationship with ABCUSA":
YES: 267 (39.9%)
NO: 402 (60.1%)
The "status quo" got a drubbing. Again, if I were in Valley Forge, I would take no comfort from this outcome.
Instead, the phased process that is described at http://22.214.171.124/Executive%20Board%20Action.pdf sounds very much like the process now underway in PSW. PSW got "ahead" of WVBC only because Dr. Medley's choice to provoke a confrontation in late summer over the Budget Covenant issue.
I have a special place in my heart for West Virginia. I am a 1979 graduate of Alderson-Broaddus College. I have often called West Virginians the Texans of the North. Just like I've never met a mean Texan, I've never met a mean West Virginian. Take me home, country roads...
Thursday, October 20, 2005
News Analysis - Dennis E. McFadden
What do we make of the actions coming out of West Virginia?
For some time the region has been objectifying the West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth as an unrepresentative group. My contacts in WV tell me that the regional leadership considers them outside the mainstream theologically, temperamentally prickly and contrarian, and financially insignificant to the mission of the region. During the tenure of their movement, they have taken up positions oppositional to that of the regional leadership, including the new Executive Minister, Dr. David L. Carrico. Appearing to stand against the recently installed Executive during his honeymoon, when most people would want to give him the benefit of the doubt, doomed their chances of winning the vote in the annual gathering. This is unfortunate since, as Glenn Layne has suggested in his blog (www.durabledata.blogspot.com), Jay Wolfe has been a stalwart for orthodoxy and a leader among West Virginians.
Valley Forge will misread the election returns, however, if they draw even faint comfort from the decision by the churches. For, as Pastor Allan has indicated, [see my post of yesterday-GL] the delegates turned down an attempt to affirm relationship with the ABCUSA by an even more decisive measure. Indeed, the West Virginia churches have embarked upon an examination of their relationship with Valley Forge. If they do not want to take up arms against their new leader, Dr. Carrico, and refuse to identify with those widely perceived (rightly or wrongly) to hail from the hard right end of the spectrum, they have even less attraction for Valley Forge. This represents a victory for the evangelical center of the ABCUSA.
While it may be unfortunate that circumstances have placed the WVBBT in a position appearing too far right for the comfort of the majority, Valley Forge's posture elicits even more discomfort and disagreement. Following on the heels of the PSW initiative and the prospects for likely rejection of the IN/KY proposal coming before the General Board of the ABCUSA in Novemeber, further distancing from Valley Forge appears certain within West Virginia churches. Even if parliamentary moves are made to lock the IN/KY motion up in a protracted period of reconciliation of competing proposals, evangelicals in West Virginia and elsewhere will likely interpret this as a defeat for biblical authority and orthodoxy within the ABC.
As Pastor Allan put it in a characteristically understated West Virginia way, "But be sure that few are happy with the current direction of ABC-USA." It wouold be an error for ABE members reading this blog to interpret the WV actions as a defeat for orthodoxy and biblical authority. We already knew from the previously published recommendations of the West Virginia board that they were proposing a year long process of reviewing their relationship with ABCUSA. Although PSW acted dramatically in their initiation of withdrawal, their process will stretch over the better part of a year as well. Constitutional fine points seldom comport well with bold and decisive "immediate" action.
I often find Dennis' analysis spot-on, and this is no exception. In the interest of transperancy, I had lunch with Dennis today at the retirement center he leads (with a number of other pastors, as part of a regular pastor's meeting).
This AP story misses the most important parts: (1) there is widespread dissatisfaction in the center churches of the WVBC and (2) a resolution to reaffirm the "historic relationship" of WVBC and the ABC-USA failed. VF did not dodge a bullet in WV. It just barely dodged a bullet from the "far right." The center is still aiming...
...West Virginia Baptists have narrowly rejected a proposal to split from the American Baptist Churches-USA over the denomination's stance on homosexuality. The proposal introduced by the West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth failed by a vote of 391-325 at the West Virginia Baptist Convention's annual meeting. The vote followed a move by Baptist churches in the Pacific Southwest, which announced plans earlier this year to break from the American Baptist Churches over issues of homosexuality. The West Virginia group's resolution said the ordination of homosexuals and affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle by some American Baptist churches is contrary to biblical teaching. [AP]
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
From the ABE online message board:
Fellow West Virginian here...
Long two days...
Had two votes today:
the first, as proposed by the BBT (Baptists for Biblical Truth) failed.
the second, proposed by an ABC supporting church to reaffirm our relationship with ABC-USA also failed but by a wider margin.
For the record, I realize that Dr. Carrico [WV Exec] is trying to say the right things, but he is also trying to do the right things. There is a working task force that will report on our relationship with ABC at our meeting next year. The proposed path will no doubt be determined by the events of the General Board next month and to follow.
There are a few churches that will always be ABC-USA no matter what happens, but I would say that the WVBC is united in everything but practice. It was a very Spirit-filled meeting. Those on opposite sides were embracing after the vote. But be sure that few are happy with the current direction of ABC-USA.OK, here's the key thing:
The CENTER of the ABC in WV as well as across most regions are dissatisfied with "the current direction of the ABC-USA." Valley Forge will no doubt spin this as a great victory. BIG MISTAKE. Jay Wolfe of WVBBT is a friend, but he's positioned himself as the "hard right". The evangelical CENTER of the denomination is what Valley Forge has to be worried about, not a "right-wing fringe."
And my advice to VF? Be afraid. Be very afraid...
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
October 19, 2005
West Virginia Baptists may break with national group over homosexuality
About 1,000 American Baptists from across West Virginia will meet in Clarksburg for their annual two-day convention, which begins Tuesday. About 500 delegates are expected to vote on a major issue on Wednesday when they consider a proposal by West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth to split from the American Baptist Churches-USA over the denomination's perceived insufficient opposition to homosexuality. About 70 churches have said they support the resolution.
"I don't think it brings any honor or glory to have battles like this," said David Carrico, executive minister of the West Virginia Baptist Convention. "We need to work together to ensure accountability."
Carrico said the West Virginia Baptist Convention addressed the issue in 1991, when delegates voted for a resolution that said homosexuality was not an acceptable Christian lifestyle. American Baptist churches have the same policy, he said.
But Jay Wolfe, chairman of the West Virginia coalition, said he believes the American Baptist leadership has deceived West Virginians. "They've allowed this problem to fester and get worse over the years," Wolfe said. "They've quieted the issue and haven't taken it to the laypeople in the pews."
West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth is following Baptist churches in the Pacific Southwest, which announced plans earlier this year to break from the American Baptist Churches-USA for a failure to implement a declaration that same-sex relationships are incompatible with Christianity.
The Pacific Southwest Region said some churches with liberal stands on homosexuality have not been properly disciplined. But a national committee said the church does not set policy for any of its 5,800 congregations because each is autonomous. West Virginia is the largest of 35 regions in the American Baptist Churches-USA, with 465 churches.
With 1.5 million members, American Baptist Churches-USA is smaller and more moderate on gay issues than the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. (AP)
My impression is that the AP reporter underestimates the momentum in WV. Also, the vote itself is only to initiate an investigatory process. Don't let the MSM (MainStream Media) reports fool you on this.